There's no denying that theirs is a one-of-a-kind pairing, with one-of-a-kind possibilities. Fleck and Washburn have collaborated in the past, most visibly in their Sparrow Quartet with Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee. Until recently, though, any performances they gave as a two-piece were decidedly informal, a pickin' party here, a benefit show at Washburn's grandmother's Unitarian church there. It was inevitable and eagerly anticipated by fans of tradition-tweaking acoustic fare that these partners in music and life (who married in 2009) would eventually do a full-fledged project together.
Now that Fleck, a 15-time GRAMMY winner, has devoted time away from his standard-setting ensemble Béla Fleck and the Flecktones to a staggeringly broad array of musical experiments, from writing a concerto for the Nashville Symphony to exploring the banjo's African roots to jazz duos with Chick Corea, while Washburn has drawn critical acclaim for her solo albums, done fascinating work in folk musical diplomacy in China, presented an original theatrical production, contributed to singular side groups Uncle Earl and The Wu-Force and become quite a live draw in her own right, the two of them decided they were ready to craft their debut album as a duo, Béla Fleck & Abigail.
Fresh off their Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album for Coming Home, the O'Connor Band has confirmed their spot on this year's Pagosa Folk 'N Bluegrass lineup, headlining the show on Saturday, June 9.
Family bands obviously have significant historical precedent, especially in bluegrass and country music (The Carter Family, The Stonemans, The Whites, The Band Perry, and so on), but it's rare to find one with such diversity and versatility.
Mark O'Connor himself has the name that fans of many different musical styles will immediately recognize. A former child prodigy and national champion on the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin, Mark has won his share of Grammys and CMA Awards, and he has collaborated with a dizzying array of iconic artists, including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Randy Travis, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis, and Yo-Yo Ma. He has performed his numerous original violin concertos with hundreds of major symphony orchestras around the world. In addition to his career as a performer, he is the author of a groundbreaking and now best-selling instructional method for strings, The O'Connor Method.
The all-star band is rounded out by O'Connor's son, Forrest on mandolin; Katie Lee on fiddle and vocals; Mark's wife Maggie also on fiddle and vocals; Joe Smart on guitar and Geoff Saunders on bass. All six musicians possess impressive multi-instrumental abilities that allow the group to explore a wide range of musical configurations. The three-violin lineup is unique amongst contemporary ensembles. The songs on Coming Home hold their own with anything you'll hear on a Friday or Saturday night at The Bluebird Café in Nashville. Indeed, the record may be one of the most impressive debut albums released by any bluegrass band in a long time; its recent Grammy win is a testament to that.
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